7 Days to Better Your Relationship with Your Dog

Day One: Add Some Doggy Zen Time
Turn the TV off, close your laptop, and put your cell phone away. Put away any and all things that might take your attention away from your dog. For 30 Minutes sit in silent connection with your dog. You can place your hands on them and give a gentle pet or scratch or you can just relax and sit beside them and allow their head to rest in your lap. Enjoy the moments, listen to his calm breath, and watch her slowly drift off into the land of doggy slumber. Cherish the peace these moments bring to your life each and every day.

Keep in mind that this can be difficult for some dogs at first but with practice you will be able to teach your dog how to relax through this experience. Not only will Doggy Zen bring you many enjoyable moments but also it will become a very important tool to help relax your dog in new or stressful environments such as going to the vet or groomer. If your dog is having a hard time with this practice for shorter lengths of time, apply gentle pressure to acupressure points used for calming such as the tips of the ears and the GV20 point on the top of the head and gradually lengthen the time spent in Doggy Zen as your dog becomes accustomed to the Zen time.

Day Two: Say Yes More and No Less
Imagine you get into a cab but instead of telling the driver the address of the place you would like to go, you give him directions by telling him where not to go. You say, “driver, please don’t turn left here. Nope this isn’t the way to go. Don’t go there! No, no, NO!” Does this sound absurd? Do you think you are ever going to get to your destination? Probably not before the driver gives up and tells you to get out of the car!

Traditional dog training is based on giving the answer, “no” to your dog. “No don’t pull on the leash.” “No, don’t stand there.” “No, don’t sniff that tree!” The result may be a dog that appears to be obedient but in reality the dog has just given up the way the imaginary cab driver did in the example above. The term used to identify this condition is Learned Helplessness. In many cases Learned Helplessness is wrongly identified as ‘calm submission’ or ‘obedient’ when in reality the dog in question has acquired learned helplessness due to their inability to determine the consequences of their behavior and have perceived an absence of control over the outcome of a situation. In other words, the dog has just given up after receiving too many instances of non-contingent, punishing consequences.

Free yourself from the anger and frustration that this type of incomplete communication brings to you and your dog by giving your dog “an address.” Focus on telling her what you do want her to do instead of what you don’t want her to do. “Yes, I do want you to sit when I put your leash on to go for a walk.” “Yes, I do want to you lay on your mat when I am eating dinner.” “Yes, I do want you to walk beside me.” “Yes! I do want you to go pee outside! Good job!” When you incorporate more “yes” into your day-to-day encounters you will feel liberated and empowered by the results this answer brings to you. Learning clicker training is a wonderful way to introduce more “yes” and less “no” into your training routine with your dog. Visit the Karen Pryor Academy website to find a qualified clicker trainer in your region.

Day Three: Go For a Walk in a New Place
Tired of the same old scene? Your dog probably is, too! Get out there and explore the world together. Hit a new park or trail, go to a new dog-friendly shop or take your regular walk in a new neighborhood. Socialization in its truest form relates to having a generally positive outlook on life. The more positive experiences your dog has in life the more socialized and prepared for life he will be. In addition, your dog will be better prepared to handle new unpredictable experiences since you have provided her with many instances to build up her confidence.

Day Four: Play a Game
Game playing is a wonderful way to get connected with your dog and improve your relationship with him. Games are a powerful tool in animal training programs that not only create a great positive association with you but also can offer your dog life rewards for performing appropriate behaviors. Visit a previous blog post, Canine Connection – 8 Fun Games to Play with Your Dog, for ideas on games to incorporate into your daily routine with your dog.

Day Five: Connect Through Touch
When a child falls and injures herself, the first thing a mother does is offer healing through touch. We have all experienced the comfort that a touch can give in such ways as a hug after a bad day, a handshake to reunite friends, or a gentle caress to say, “I’m sorry.” Instead of mindless petting or scratching, exist in the moment with your dog and give them comfort through connected touch or massage. Tellington TTouch is a “specialized approach to the care and training of our companion animals…” that uses an arrangement of TTouches that can relax your animal and bring harmony to your relationship.  Please visit the official TTouch website for more information.

Day Six: Take a Nap Together
Dogs need sleep and a lot of it. Actually it is quite normal for a dog to sleep up to 16 hours each day. I admit that I have a naptime for my dogs each afternoon to give them some quiet rest from our morning hike. But, there really is no better way to spend an afternoon than all snuggled up like a bug in a rug beside your furry friend. Their soft breath in your ear, their quiet whimpers, and their feet gently running through dreamland as you drift away to find your own slumber will help your connection grow deeper than ever before.

Day Seven: Shape a New Behavior
Shaping is a gradual and incremental teaching procedure that captures initial approximations towards a final goal behavior. Once your dog performs a particular approximation regularly, you set a new criterion, closer to the final goal behavior and reward those attempts rather than the previously set criteria.

Shaping promotes a true partnership between human and dog since in order for the behavior to be taught, the dog must be an equal participant in the process. Force and physical manipulation are never used and the goal is not compliance but instead to empower the animal to make their own decisions based on a history of reinforcement of a particular behavior. Shaping through successive approximations encourages an experimental approach to problem solving and opens the dog up to learn the specific behaviors they are required to perform in order to earn further reinforcement.

Through shaping procedures, a dog learns how to manipulate their environment in order to earn reinforcement, experiments with how to problem solve, and is empowered through their own personal choice to participate with their human. As a result, the human-animal bond grows in trust and compassion.

Check out ClickerTraining.com for additional resources on clicker training tips, tools and books.

by Niki Perry, CPDT-KA, KPACTP, CEMT, Release the Hounds Board Member

Niki’s website: The Beloved Beast

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